This year's Omega Gold Cup match racing regatta, which began in Hamilton, Bermuda, on Oct. 27, drew a number of area sailors through a new twist in the event added this year.
The event had been known as the King Edward VII Gold Cup prior to sponsorship by Omega Watch, with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club acting as host. Along with its title sponsorship, Omega provided a $10,000 gold watch for the overall winner.
Other sponsors who offered support to the event, including Continental Airlines, Bermuda's Butterfield Bank, Gosling's Rum, Patagonia, Wedgewood and other businesses, swelled the total cash purse for the regatta to $70,000.
The regatta was part of the World Match Racing Conference's annual schedule. But it differed from other events on the circuit by the addition of a 16-team "pay to play" unseeded class, from whose ranks eight would go on to compete against the eight invited internationally seeded skippers taking part in the latter portion of the regatta.
Among the ranks of the unseeded challengers coming up with a hefty $1,200 entry fee were locally-based teams, including Kin Yellott, Paul Murphy and Mark Fischer from the Columbus Cup's Team Baltimore; and John Aras, Dave Decker, Joel Mateer and Tom Price. The seeded teams included Canadian Greg Tawaststjerna, currently based in Annapolis with the Farr organization, and his crew, including Annapolitan Joe Evans.
Also among the unseeded class skippers were San Diegoan Larry Klein and Sweden's Pelle Petterson, both of whom had opted to sail in that class rather than accept free entry to the seeded class.
"Not only were the paying skippers world caliber in their own right," said Evans, "but they entered the championship series with an advantage in practice and local knowledge."
Evans said the unseeded sailors had something of an advantage over the seeded sailors because of the structure of the regatta. The 16 unseeded challengers randomly were split into two groups of eight, each of which sailed a four-day, seven-race round-robin series -- which gave them extra time to learn the 33-foot-deep keel International One Designs used in the regatta and to become familiar with local conditions in Hamilton Harbor.
The four survivors of each unseeded group then were paired against the seeded skippers for the championship series that followed. This advantage, he said, was what attracted Petterson and Klein to the ranks of the unseeded group despite having to pay for the privilege of sailing the extra days.
Also sailing unseeded were No. 1 U.S. Soling skipper Kevin Mahaney, former J/24 and Laser World Champion Ed Baird, Flying Dutchman World Champion Jorg Deisch, Olympic silver medalist Steve Benjamin, British sailor Tim Law, Americans Steve Flam, Bill Widnall and Bill Buckles, and Bermudans Peter Bromby, Warren Brown Jr., Eldon Trimingham III and Blythe Walker.
Those who survived the elimination round-robin were Baird, Mahaney, Diesch and Bromby from the first group (which also included Benjamin, Law and Petterson), and Klein, Yellott, Flam and Widnall from the second.
Seeded sailors were Kiwis Russell Coutts and Rod Davis, Australian Peter Gilmour, Sweden's Olle Johansson, Canadian Ross MacDonald, Valdemar Bandolowski of Denmark, U.S. sailor J.J. Isler (a former Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year who is currently the No. 1-ranked woman skipper in the world) and Tawaststjerna.
"It was really a great regatta, with good racing on short courses," Murphy said of his experience with the Yellott team. "Klein won our elimination round, and we were second after we lost to Aras in light air and lost to a guy who hadn't won a race all week. But we beat Klein in our (round-robin) race against him."
The Chesapeake Bay sailors were holding their own in the championship competition against the seeded sailors until, as Murphy put it, "We managed to pull defeat away from victory in the last 90 seconds of the final round.
We were close to winning but we chumped it."
Their defeat by Johansson in the final few yards of that race left them as best of our local sailors, but set them down into 12th place overall.
"That was a good race," Murphy said, "but the boats are kind of old and they're difficult to sail. The courses were right off the Princess Hotel in the harbor in downtown Hamilton, so it was pretty shifty, but there was a lot of spectator appeal. We really enjoyed it."
Tawaststjerna fell to 13th in the series after losing to Baird, and being black-flagged in a race "for failing to execute a second penalty turn from a pre-start foul which he was unaware of," Evans said.
And despite beating Yellott's team, Aras and company failed to make it out of the eliminations, ranking 21st when it was over.
Things were exciting at the upper end of the championship fleet, where both Coutts and Gilmour, who are seeded No. 1 and 2, respectively, by the WMRC, had to fight to hang on to the top slots. That left them facing each other in the best-of-five final contest worth $25,000, the Gold Cup and the watch.